A Massachusetts crackdown on tens of thousands of people each year who shirk jury duty is making good progress, the Boston Globe reports. Officials are haling scofflaws into courthouses and charging the worst offenders with criminal offenses. Over eight years, the tougher stance has helped cut by half the percentage of jury duty dodgers. The state plans new measures to drive down noncompliance even further. Officials say the hard line on no-shows will help make jury pools more representative of the community and ensure fair judgments. It is part of a campaign to make people understand that jury duty is an obligation everyone must fulfill, not an annoyance that the savvy and well-to-do can skip.
When a prospective juror fails to show up, the Delinquent Juror Prosecution Program issues a series of warnings, which, if ignored, culminate in an order to arrive in court, not as a juror but as a defendant in a criminal case. Faced with that choice, all but a few comply. Last year, the state summoned 770,889 people for jury duty at 57 courts; of those, 48,439 failed to show up and were identified as delinquents. The 6.3 percent delinquency rate is comparatively low says Thomas Munsterman, director of the Center for Jury Studies of the National Center for State Courts. In some states, delinquency rates run as high as 40 percent. When Massachusetts began the crackdown in 1996, the delinquency rate was 13.3 percent. To achieve the goal of diversity in the jury box, Pamela J. Wood, who became state jury commissioner in November, said the state is aiming not to punish people, but to prod them to serve. On average, about 85 percent of delinquent jurors annually agree to complete jury duty, rather than face criminal charges. Asked whether she thought using criminal charges as a threat was heavy-handed, Wood said: “No, I don’t.”